Dark Force Rising, Chapter 1

will: It’s now nine months since Z and I started this project, and at last, we’ve completed an entire book. The “Current Book” image on the right side has changed, there’s a new tag (though we still share the “Reviews,” “Timothy Zahn,” and “Thrawn Trilogy” ones)…at this rate, I’m reminded of nothing so much as the line from “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Yoda”:

The long-term contract I had to sign
Says I’ll be making these movies reviews ‘til the end of time…

z: Well, given that Mark is going to read through the entirety of Discworld for instance, and then go on to other things before hitting the Vorkosigan saga, I am not complaining too much.

will: That’s especially funny in light of The Force Awakens being due out this December. But I am digressing. At any rate, we’re on to Dark Force Rising, the second book of the Thrawn Trilogy.

z: …yeah.  That.  I’ve heard of that.  Um…

…no, let’s talk about that closer to December if we have to.

will: OK, OK.

will: Once again, Zahn opens with a Star Destroyer. In this case, the Chimaera orbits Myrkr, waiting. It’s been ten minutes since the ground assault teams were in position, and an hour since the Chimaera took up blockade position, but everyone–especially Pellaeon–is waiting for Thrawn’s order.

Zahn mixes in some basic reintroduction–a necessary evil, though I can’t imagine someone picking up Book 2 of the Thrawn Trilogy without going back, it is a convention common to this sort of thing–how Thrawn is a genius, he’s an alien (actually, he’s “not-entirely-human,” suggesting that at the time Thrawn was conceived as a mixture of human and alien. I doubt Zahn had invented the Chiss yet), he operates on a level far beyond Pellaeon and the rest of the crew. For example, he picks up on Pellaeon’s confusion and explains that he’d sent observers into Hyllyard City in order to maybe pick up on Karrde’s trail. He’s confident Karrde is long gone.

z: The recap-py nature of the first chapter is something I definitely noticed this time through, but, well– a) I think I did not mind those too much and mostly did not even notice that they were there for a purpose when I was younger (a very good example of that is coming up shortly), and b) I put down the previous book scarcely a week ago, so.

will: Pellaeon’s confusion–why all the trouble?–is understandable, but Thrawn has three good reasons: first, even Karrde might have missed something in a hurry; second, he hopes to follow the trail, and third, now that they have the Spaarti cylinders, they’ve regained the initiative, so  their ground forces need practice for the upcoming campaigns. At any rate, he tells Pellaeon to signal the go, and reaches for his own comm at the same time.

General Covell, commanding the ground forces, has the standard interservice complaint of “hurry up and wait,” with bonus “strutting Fleet people in their spotless uniforms and nice clean ships,” and that Thrawn isn’t there to explain himself. Not that he would. Pellaeon is a special case; in general, Thrawn gives the orders and the subjects of the Empire respond “yes, sir.”

z: General Covell is a bit of a stereotype, shorthand for long-term world-weary but very army-proud army-man.  Not that I had recognized that so many years ago, either.

will: And “yes, sir,” it is. Covell and his teams of AT-ATs, flanked by AT-STs and hoverscouts, converge on the Myrkr base… inexpertly, and Covell admits that Thrawn’s goal of training (whether Covell specifically was told that or not, he’s no fool) is spot on, as his troops, even officers in charge of an entire assault group, need practical experience badly.

As they arrive, bursting into the base from all four cardinal directions, they find…nothing. They read some life signs and deploy troopers, who move through the base with advance-by-cover tactics that Covell thinks of as “centuries-old” (probably millenia-old, really), but the troops report that it’s just more ysalamiri, and the base is empty. The scene closes with Covell back on topic A, the Fleet strutters.

z: One particular thought of Covell on the subject of ysalamiri did make me giggle.  He grumbles that the Fleet boys, for whatever reason, all like these creatures very much now and want more of them, but won’t explain why, of course not, bah.

If you want that explanation, General, get in line, and make sure your credit line is fat enough to pay Karrde for it.

will: Aboard the Wild Karrde, which is unsurprisingly still in the system “snuggled up against a sun-skimmer asteroid,” Mara and the crew listen in as the base is torn apart. Mara encourages them to get going, but Karrde wants to make sure they didn’t miss something when they abandoned the base. Mara’s point about how this is the oldest trick “on the list” (another slight change, like “hit-and-fade,” unobjectionable but noticeable) meets Karrde’s “there’s no way Thrawn would think we were so bold, he expects us to be running like mad.”

Besides, if the Chimaera decided to investigate, there would be plenty of time to get away.

So why is Mara’s backbrain screaming at her?

z: And, the reader is invited to ask, how is Mara’s backbrain screaming at her?

will: Back to the Chimaera. The base scans came up empty, but Thrawn’s observers did get a twitch. Pellaeon is all set to start long-range investigation, but Thrawn points a little asteroid out to him–no, don’t focus sensors, it’ll tip Karrde off. Wait, says Pellaeon, that’s Karrde?

z: And this was the show-don’t-tell variant of recapping that I said was going to come up shortly.  Zahn doesn’t tell the reader that Thrawn is preternaturally perceptive. He doesn’t even recap the couple of cases in the first book that Thrawn immediately saw through carefully-set-up deceptions.  He just shows Thrawn seeing through another carefully-set-up deception, from the word “go.”  The message gets through, for my money.

will: Of course. Thrawn has studied Karrde thoroughly. The man isn’t a smuggler, not really. He’s an information junkie, with a side business in information brokerage.

z: “…I’ve seen what kind of art he collects.”  Remember that Thrawn wanted to visit Karrde in person, on Myrkr?

will: Serious diversion here. Thrawn is 100% right about Karrde–after all, like knows like, and Thrawn is an infojunkie too. And it took a reference on TV Tropes, of all places, for me to realize what this is about: The Information Age.

Star Wars is a product of the late Space Age, and a throwback to the Pulp Age. (Luke Skywalker’s predecessors include Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, the Rocketeer, the Lensmen, and the Green Lanterns–who themselves owed a lot to the Lensmen, but let’s not quibble about that.) It’s all over the structure of it. But now, as Zahn is writing, it’s the early ‘90s, and we’re experiencing the rise of personal computing and the concept that, in the words of the fantastic heist movie Sneakers, “it’s about the information!”

So Zahn created two characters, diametrically opposed, who both operate through the collection and analysis of data.

Well-played.

z: Oooooh.  Oooooh.

Well-noticed, too.

will: No credit to me. Back to the action. Thrawn is sure that Karrde is watching, there’s nowhere else he can be hiding, so. But the Chimaera can’t move in or Karrde’ll bail out.

z: Since Karrde was explicitly not stupid enough to do the watching from within the range that the Chimaera, or its TIE-fighter squadrons, could catch him before they could slip into hyperspace.

It attracted my attention that while Thrawn has underestimated Luke Skywalker a couple of times in the previous book, here he says in almost as many words that Karrde isn’t that stupid.  There’s something there related to the “like knows like,” theory, maybe “like likes like?”  Or rather “like evaluates like more accurately?”  Hmmm.

will: Remember that comm call Thrawn placed? Yep, he called in a ship. Not just any, but the Constrainer. Which, by its name alone, you know has to be an Interdictor Cruiser. They have names like that. Binder, for example, or Stellar Web. At any rate, Thrawn figures that no harm done if he’s wrong…and if he’s right, well then.

z: Stellar Web is a pretty name, though.  Someone in the Imperial Ship Nomenclature Department was having a poetic day.

We have a scene shift back to on board the Wild Karrde

will: Aves and Mara point out that the Imperials haven’t found anything, and Mara resumes agitating to get gone, please. Karrde wants to stay, Aves backs his boss…and the vornskrs literally drag Chin onto the bridge, staring at Mara.

I had no idea what that was about until it was explained a book from now. Did you?

z: Nope, and this time I thought it was funny I didn’t understand it, because immediately Mara herself drops a hint-anvil (ow)–

will: Mara sees that the vornskrs are looking at her the way the wild ones stared at Luke… usually just before they attacked him… but Chin and Karrde get them calmed the hell down. With them gone, Mara’s feeling of dread is growing until she can’t take it anymore. She fires up the engines.

z: Which means that now “sensors are screaming all over the Chimaera,” and there’s nothing else to do but to leave with a quickness.

will: There’s a nice bit about command authority there. Aves is shocked, but Karrde backs her. She’s second in command. Mara, though, knows that in private he’s liable to rip her a new one, maybe even fire her. (That is, boot her from his organization.) She had “done it again,” she thinks bitterly, trying to do “things she knew full well she couldn’t do.”

Zahn was leaving a lot of clues, wasn’t he?

z: Yup.

Also, this time through, insert my wince about “trying to do things she knew full well she couldn’t do.”  Ow ow self-doubt ow second-guessing yourself ow ow extra anxiety ow ow ow.  This thing about revisiting the characters you’d met as teenagers and had not quite grasped what they were going through in the callousness of your youth…

Oh my Shepard, what is it going to be like if I reread, say, the Vorkosigan series when I’m nearer to 50?

Don’t mind me, I’ll be over in this corner gibbering a little.

will: Heh. I’d say you’re going to start sympathizing with Cordelia, but you probably do already. You’re going to have more sympathy for Illyan though–again, if you don’t already.

Me, it was Ivan in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.

At any rate, the Wild Karrde moves to flee…and the Interdictor shows up.

Well, at least Mara isn’t likely to be fired now! If they survive. If they don’t…well, that’s the other firing.

z: …and thus drops the other shoe.  I was waiting.

Sigh.  Books change, but some things… don’t.

will: But survive they do, barely, hitting hyperspace just before the gravity well projectors are online.

As they discuss Thrawn’s hunch (which, in truth, it was), and Mara’s counterhunch, Mara is even more miserable. It was back, she thinks. The same thing that led to her finding Luke–which really is telling us what’s going on–will lead to sensory flickers, urges, and dreams.

Yes, it’s basically a cycle of Force sensitivity, tied into the Emperor’s death.

z: Although that last isn’t explicit, or even very explicitly implicit yet, I should think.  That her Issues is tied to the Emperor’s death, we got in the forest conversation, but cyclicality?

will: This time, Mara thinks, maybe she can do something about this. Maybe she can finally kill Luke Skywalker.

z: And that is Zahn putting in a  “wha…?” point for the rare reader who picked up the second volume first.

will: Back to the Chimaera. Thrawn and Pellaeon watch disappointed, and Pellaeon worries whether there will be a repeat of the Colclazure incident, but Thrawn notes that the Wild Karrde was moving before the Constrainer arrived. Nobody in the Chimaera or Constrainer could have warned them, so it goes up as a new puzzle, nobody’s heads will roll.

Ahem.

Back to “pressing matters.” How goes the call for warships? Eight of fifteen “groups” have expressed an interest, but not with any commitments.

z: What was that “interest,” I wonder?  “We’ll be on the lookout for you?” “We’ll see if we can *ahem* “”””borrow”””” any for you from our “”””friends””””?”

One thing that hadn’t occurred to me until this point in this readthrough: Both sides are searching for ships, it turns out, at the moment—but the New Republic is searching for cargo ships and the Empire is searching for capital war ships.  Nope, no contrast or anything there.

Well-played, Mr. Zahn.

will: And Pellaeon hesitates, but reports this: C’baoth has been calling them. Thrawn (again showing all of the anger and frustration that this war brings to his character) asks Pellaeon to please remind C’baoth that if a hint of the connection between him and the Empire leaks, that’ll be it for the plan. C’baoth has brushed that off, though. Luke will come to him. But what about Leia and the twins?

Thrawn sighs; “there‘ll be no shutting him up” until they do that, and he’ll be complaining about the attack coordinations he does until then too. Thrawn grouses more, and finally says OK, tell him Tanaab is the last attack he’ll be asked to do; Luke will be along later, because the politics of the New Republic will be in the way for a while, and Thrawn will be “taking a personal hand” in the Organa Solo capture. Pellaeon blinks and glances at Rukh, and asks whether the Noghri are still on the job.

Nope.

The discussion continues, with Pellaeon worrying about the Noghri’s reaction to that, and Thrawn saying “the Noghri serve the Empire and me, so they’ll do as they are told.” Nice to the Waiter Principle, indeed.

z: …and maybe 20 years before TVTropes was even a gleam in anyone’s eye, and with 20 years fewer reading experience under my belt, that line had still made me very, very uneasy.

will: Thrawn tells Pellaeon to have Covell return to the ship, file his report, and identify the best troopers and walker drivers in the operation; they will be transferred to Mount Tantiss immediately. (That’s been a standard order for a few weeks now, but Thrawn occasionally says it again, probably to remind everyone how important it is.)

And don’t fret, Karrde will pop up again.

Final shift of the chapter: the High Castle of Jomark. We get what might–am I remembering this wrong?–be the only C’baoth point of view: the High Castle doesn’t really deserve the name, but it’s where C’baoth rules now. He thinks on the flicker in the Force he just felt (ahem, ahem), thinking he’d felt it before, but really, he doesn’t have a very good memory. Even his own history is more like a remembered story someone told him. He thought someone told him why, but he can’t remember.

(Because he’s a clone, of course. He literally got told his own memory.)

z: I don’t remember if we get any other C’baoth point of views, but I’m leaning towards you being right, this is the only one.

will: But none of it matters. The Force matters. Nobody can do anything to him…but Thrawn did, didn’t he? Bringing him here instead of Wayland, where he fought the Guardian (details are sketchy on that, but he remembers a grand battle…which I still think is implanted, and C’baoth was the Guardian). Here, to wait for Luke and Leia and the twins. That’s right.

But back to the flickers. He’d felt them before, once in a while. Someone who used to use the Force and then…forgot? How? No matter. Not important. He has a job to do, and then he’ll come back and wait for Luke and Leia and the twins, and he’ll make them his servants and followers, and Thrawn will understand power.

z: The “not important” also comes with an interesting line: “It was not a threat, and therefore not important.”

I’m… having thinky-thoughts about sapience again, and how that applies to clones.  C’baoth’s point of view reads, for lack of a better word, rather… robotic.  Threat assessments.  Priority settings.  There is a very strong desire for power and a very narrow definition of the same.  And as Will points out, his memories have been loaded up, rather than accumulated.

Hrm.

will: Scene.

Creeeeeeeeee-pyyyyy.

I haven’t done nearly enough to describe C’baoth’s thought process, which is slippery and looping. Clone effects, like I said. Unreliable narrator, to say the least. At any rate, we get more hints as to Mara’s nature–the word “Force” isn’t used in relation to her, but it’s pretty clear what’s happening–as well as some examples of Thrawn’s sideways thinking and Karrde’s addiction to information. We know that the Empire has fomented some political instability on Coruscant, presumably the whole “Ackbar arrested for treason” thing, we know they’re still looking for ships, and we know that C’baoth, in the words of a certain scientist-cum-ragemonster, has a brain that’s a bagful of cats.

Nice setup to book 2, don’t you think?

Z?

z: What you said?

Seriously, though—there are a number of hooks in here that would have grabbed a new reader, even with the “second book of the saga” on the cover.  (Sometimes, say, if you’re buying paperbacks with no covers from a used bookstore two continents away or are tied to a University library for the same, you might not get the chance to get series in order, either.  I was lucky with the Thrawn series—I found and read the first one first, but… I read the third one second.  And I never read the second one until… well, guess what the very first book I ever bought in the United States was?

(And yes, I still have it.  In fact that’s the copy I’ll be using for Force Visions.  And yes, it’s signed.  So there.)

will: I’m just using my Kindle as usual, by the way.

z: …anyway, even a newcomer would be interested enough to keep reading, I think.  And that’s saying a lot, because once again, we’ve opened with the “original” characters, the opposition and the observers—the Empire and the smugglers—with none of the ostensible main characters around, or even mentioned except as prey and, um, creepily as… something… by C’baoth.  Which only adds to the tension, of course.

Some of that tension will be resolved starting immediately next week, though.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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